Archive for December, 2010

Don’t be consumed by endless “urgent” tasks. You’ll have no time left for important work.  

Busy people have two options when they decide how their workdays will go: they can choose to be reactive to urgent demands on their time, or proactive about focusing on what they decide is important. The only way to actually get things done is to mitigate the urgent to work on the important.

Let’s differentiate between what I call urgent and what I call important.

Urgent tasks include things like:

  • That Frantic email that needs a response RIGHT NOW
  • A sudden request or report due just before a meeting
  • A sudden request that seems like it’ll only take two minutes but often ends up taking an hour

More often than not “urgent” is:

  • Putting out fires
  • Busywork
  • Tasks that you’d rather do first because they’re less intimidating than your current project list
  • Usually short-term

We’re drawn to urgent tasks because they keep us busy and make us feel needed. (If we’re busy people, we must be important people.) But dealing with a constant stream of urgent tasks leaves you wrung out at the end of the day, wondering where all the time went, staring at the actual work you’ve got to complete.

 On the flip side, important work:

  • Moves you and your business toward your goals
  • Doesn’t give us that same shot of adrenaline that urgent requests do
  • Can involve thinking out long-term goals, being honest about where you are and where you want to be
  • Can be plain hard work that feels boring and tedious

On a personal level, important work may include making time to get to the gym everyday. On a business level, important work may be devising your yearly plan, breaking it down into quarterly and monthly deliverables, and evaluating your current performance against last year’s plan. (Doesn’t the mere thought of going to the gym and deciding on the year’s goals make you want to check your email? Still, that’s the work that will help you meet your goals.)

If your workplace encourages that frantic vibe of headless-chicken running and constant urgency, it can feel impossible to focus on what’s important versus what’s urgent. Still, an awareness of the difference and a few simple techniques can help.

 Choose three important tasks to complete each day. Write them down on a slip of paper, and keep it visible on your desk. When you have a moment, instead of checking your email, look at the slip of paper and work on an item. Keep the list to just three tasks, and see how many can complete.

Turn off your e-mail. Shut down Outlook, turn off new email notifications on your Blackberry, and do whatever else you have to do to muffle the interruption of email. When you decide to work on one of your important tasks, give yourself at least an hour at least of uninterrupted time to complete it. If the Web is too much of a temptation, disconnect your computer from the Internet for that hour.

Set up weekly 20-minute meeting with yourself. Put it on your calendar, and don’t book over it—treat it with the same respect you’d treat a meeting with your boss. If you don’t have an office door or you work in an open area that’s constantly busy, book a conference room for your meeting. Go there to be alone. Bring your project list, to-do list, and calendar, and spend the time reviewing what you finished in the past week, and what you want to get done next week. This is a great time to choose your daily three important tasks. Productivity author David Allen refers to this as the “weekly review,” and it’s one of the most effective ways to be mindful of how you’re spending your time.

By Gina Trapani

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The prices of natural gas and coal-based electricity may at times show some correlation because they are both part of the energy sector. There are times when their prices will show divergence instead of correlation because the prices of coal and natural gas can be affected by different environmental factors.

Supply and Demand

  1. Supply and demand are what drive prices, so any overall increase in demand for energy will cause both gas and coal to go up in price. Conversely, any overall increase in energy supply will drive gas and coal prices down. In that sense the prices of the two energy sources are correlated.


  1. During the winter months in temperate regions, people tend to need more heat from natural gas and stay indoors using electricity more. The two prices will be correlated because of an increase in demand for both.


  1. Divergence in the two prices can occur if there is a shortage in one and no increase in demand for the other. In the mid-2000s, there was a natural gas shortage in the world that caused the price to spike, but coal remained stable so there was no correlation.

The Effect of Renewable Energy Sources

  1. As more renewable energy sources come onto the market they will likely drive demand for natural gas and coal down, causing a correlation between the two. The price of electricity might also drop if it is based on renewable energy sources.

It Is Multifactorial

The fact is that sometimes there is a correlation between the prices of natural gas and electricity, and sometimes there is not. There are many factors that determine the correlation and predicting them is a very complex task.

By Timothy Banas, eHow Contributor

updated: January 22, 2010

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The Texas electricity grid is about to fundamentally change the way it operates, and here’s hoping you won’t notice.

On Wednesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will begin assigning the cost of power line congestion to the company causing that congestion. Currently, those costs are socialized across each region.

The new system, called nodal, is supposed to save Texas consumers $5.6 billion over 10 years.

Installing the nodal system has taken longer (seven years) and cost twice as much ($660 million) as expected. It made ERCOT a political punching bag and killed the careers of several executives.

“Yes, I think you could say it’s a relief to a lot of folks who have been working on it. But the relief won’t be here until we implement, and the proof is in the pudding,” said Mark Armentrout, president of the Texas Institute and former chairman of ERCOT.

A 2008 study commissioned by the Public Utility Commission found that the new operating system will save consumers $5.6 billion.

ERCOT has already been running the system and allowing power companies to test their own operations. Officials say all systems are go.

So there’s little risk that the lights will go out. If there’s a problem, it would probably show up in prices.

As part of the switch, ERCOT will boost its collateral requirements for companies trading electricity. This could squeeze a retail electric company that hasn’t prepared.

“I look at it very much like a Y2K change,” said Eric Plateis, vice president of portfolio risk management for First Choice Power. There’s a lot of preparation and no panic, he said.

He said he’s been discussing the switch with large customers and plans to pass along any costs or savings to them.

As for residential customers, anyone who has signed a fixed-price contract won’t see price changes because of nodal.

Still, there’s a risk that customers on month-to-month contracts could see higher bills. Also, electricity companies that don’t have deep enough pockets to handle nodal surprises could go bust.

Industry officials know that if something goes wrong and people begin calling their legislators, things could get very hot for the power industry.

“If anything happens to any customer bill, who’s going to hear about it? The retailers are,” said Marcie Zlotnik, StarTex Power founder, during a training session last month.

She pleaded with electric company leaders to prepare for the switch: “There’s no way we’re not going to have hiccups. It’s not possible for everything to go smoothly,” she said.

“We’ve got to be prepared.”

Zlotnik feels so confident in her own preparations that she is advertising that StarTex won’t ding customers with any nodal costs.

ERCOT broadcast the training session online and then mailed every retail electric provider a DVD of the video, to make certain everyone is ready.

By ELIZABETH SOUDER / The Dallas Morning News

JAY JANNER/Austin American-Statesman

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